The biggest obstacle to productivity is connectivity. Too many of us have become addicted to email, to our feed readers, to Twitter and IM, to forums, to social sites like MySpace and YouTube and Digg. It’s an addiction, and as yet, no good cure for it has been found.
Today let’s crank up our productivity by curing our addiction.
Going through this program won’t be easy, but think about all the things you want to do beside work or surf the Internets. You can have a life — if you get rid of your addiction, do you work in less time, and free up the rest of your life for more meaningful stuff. Disconnect to become productive, and be productive to claim the rest of your life.
Here’s a 9-Step Program to cure yourself of email (or other online) addiction — we offer just as much cure as the 12-Step Folk, but with 3 fewer steps! Remember, these steps focus on email addiction, but they can be applied to any online addiction.
1. Admit the problem. You can’t cure your addiction if you won’t admit you have it, and if you don’t want to cure yourself. C’mon, admit it! You’re just as addicted as the next guy. In fact, you should probably be getting back to work right about now. Admit that you spend too much time checking your email, and too much time doing stuff online that isn’t actually productive. Admit that you could be doing a lot more if you cut back on this stuff. Now resolve to cure yourself!
2. Be aware of your impulses. This is a powerful step — in order to disconnect your urge to check email from the actual action of checking it, you need to be aware of your urges. So, for the first 2-3 days, don’t check your email any less frequently than usual — just become aware that you have the urge. The best method for this is to keep a little sheet of paper with you, and to mark a tally each time you get the urge. The point is not to see how high or low your tally count is, but to become more aware of the impulses as they hit us.
3. Clear your inbox. OK, while you’re doing the tallying, prepare yourself for a more productive life by clearing out your inbox. If you’ve got hundreds (or thousands) of messages, this could take awhile — and in that case, it’s best to create a new folder (Temporary Zone) and dump all your messages that are more than a day old in this folder. You can get to those over the next week or so, clearing them out of the temporary folder in chunks. For the rest of the messages in your inbox, you’ll need to develop the habit of dealing with each email, one at a time, and disposing of each one quickly. Open each email and take quick action: 1) reply immediately (and file or delete the original); 2) delete; 3) file for later reference; 4) forward for delegation (and file or delete the original); 5) write down any necessary actions on your to-do list and file the email; or 6) put any that require a longer reply in an @reply folder for later. But be sure to get to your @reply folder once a day. By processing each email with one of these actions, you can clear out your inbox completely.
4. Go cold turkey. OK, you’ve cleared your inbox and become more aware of your urges. Now’s the time for drastic action. Go one whole day without checking email. Gasp! That’s impossible! Not really. The world will not collapse if you don’t check email. Set up an autoresponder saying that you are not able to respond to email today because you are working on a major project (or are out of the office) and notifying recipients that they should call you if it requires a more urgent response. People will understand, trust me. Shut off your email notification — in fact, shut off the Internet completely. Now, use your email-less day to get a number of important tasks done!
5. Set email processing times. If you were successful, and were able to go an entire day without email (and you can, really!), then you know that life will go on if you don’t read your email right away. Now you know you can live with less email. Set 2-3 specific times during the day when you will check and process your inbox. Something like 10, 2 and 4. Do not set it for first thing in the morning or last thing at night. Give yourself 15 minutes to process your inbox, set a timer when it’s your email time, and crank through your inbox. When the timer goes off, close your email client until the next time. Don’t open up your email until it’s your set email time.
6. Divert yourself. But I really need to check my email! The urge is too strong! You can do this, young jedi. When you feel an urge, drink a glass of water. Stand up and stretch. Take a short walk. Go work on your next task on your to-do list. Anything, anything, to divert you from actually giving in to the urge. And the urge will pass. And all will be right in the world.
7. Clear your inbox again. When your email processing time comes up, try to clear out your inbox. Don’t let them pile up. If you can’t clear out your inbox during the allotted time, try and do it during your next email processing time. If you are consistently failing to clear your inbox, you need to either become more efficient at it, or increase your email processing time a little. Or best yet, reduce the amount of email you get by unsubscribing from mailing lists, asking friends and family not to forward inane joke or chain emails to you, filtering out senders who continue to do so, and not replying to emails that don’t really require a response.
8. Manage expectations. But what if your co-workers or friends or associates expect a reply right away? Let them know that, in order to increase your productivity, you only check email twice a day, and that you are committed to answering them as promptly as possible within those two processing times. A politely-worded email from you to all of the people with whom you correspond should do the trick. If not, they’ll begin to understand after a few days.
9. Get stuff done. Now that you’re only checking email 2-3 times a day, for a total of less than an hour a day, you’ve got lots of time on your hands to actually get stuff done. Use it wisely. Adopt a “Do It Now” attitude, and really crank through your tasks. Work less, and go out and discover the rest of life.
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